As a health and wellbeing coach I help people build their physical, mental and emotional resources to meet life challenges. Over the last month I have been deploying all that I have learnt in the last 30 years of working in health and fitness. This has been identifying what is within my circle of control, taking action and calling on those resources that have me be as resilient as I can, in the face of uncertainty.
Some of you may already know that I have been amidst a family health crisis, with both parents currently in hospital, a wife that has a chronic health condition (reliant on immune suppressing medication) and the emerging uncertainty of COVID 19. I have had a few sleepless nights to say the least! I have also made it a non negotiable, to maintain and indeed increase my self- care behaviour, that has me be the most effective and resilient in these eventful times. Here I would like to share my top 6 strategies.
Finally I always come back to this….
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
One thing that is within my circle of control is choosing actions that are in alignment with my values.
At this time I stand for being: compassionate, caring, accepting, calm and healthy J
What are your self-care behaviours that you turn to in stressful times? i would love to hear from you :)
At Vital Lifestyle our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of our community. With the evolving COVID 19 situation, we are mindful of eliminating and minimizing risk to both you our valued client and our trainers. As such you will notice a few changes and we ask for your assistance.
We kindly ask for you to:
We recognise that this is a global epidemic and one which we are treating with serious precaution, however we wanted to reiterate that it is important for you, your health, and your family that you remain calm and rational, considerate of others, and most importantly maintain a healthy lifestyle wherever possible.
The New Year is often a time for reflection. It is also a period where many make resolutions for the year ahead and some create goals to track performance. Goal setting is often the starting point for most who want to create behaviour change.
As a coach, I suggest this should be one of the final steps. I believe many are unsuccessful in creating healthy change because they haven’t created a compelling vision or have not identified key values that drive their behaviour. If values are not in alignment with a personal vision it is understandable why there maybe ambivalence and why many become unstuck, during the process of change.
So what are values ?
Values are about how you want to present in the world, what you want to stand for and where and how you spend your time. A definition that resonates for me comes from and Australian psychologist Russ Harris, who specialises in ACT (Acceptance, Commitment Therapy). According to him they are leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life.
“Values are not the same as goals. Values are directions we keep moving in, whereas goals are what we want to achieve along the way. A value is like heading North; a goal is like the river or mountain or valley we aim to cross whilst traveling in that direction. Goals can be achieved or ‘crossed off’, whereas values are an ongoing process. For example, if you want to be a loving, caring, supportive partner, that is a value – an ongoing process. If you stop being loving, caring and supportive, then you are no longer a loving, caring, supportive partner; you are no longer living by that value. In contrast, if you want to get married, that’s a goal - it can be ‘crossed off’ or achieved. Once you’re married, you’re married – even if you start treating your partner very badly. If you want a better job, that’s a goal. Once you’ve got it - goal achieved. But if you want to fully apply yourself at work, that’s a value – an ongoing process.”
In summary values are desired qualities of ongoing action. They reflect how we want to treat ourselves and others. They enhance our deepest desires as to how we want to show up in the world and behave. As any change we wish to create is a result of our behaviour, distinguishing ones values first is key.
Try this exercise for the New Year…
For the New Year try being mindful before taking action. Ask yourself the question: "Am I moving in alignment with my values?"
Christmas is often a time for catching up with family and friends. Indeed the benefits associated with most organised religion is the sense of community and meaning. In my last blog post I touched on some research indicating the importance of connecting with nature and its part in maintaining optimal health. In this post I want to focus on connecting with community and why this has an important effect on your wellbeing.
By our very nature we are social creatures. Throughout the ages our survival has depended on our ability to live and work with others. As Dr Craig Hassed states in his book ‘The Essence of Health,’ “connectedness is … deeply etched into our natures genetically, psychologically, socially and behaviourly.”
Human beings first evolved in the savannahs of Africa where we survived in small hunter- gatherer tribes of a few hundred people or less. We owe our existence to the very fact that these first communities learned how to co-operate. They shared food, looked after the sick and managed threats together. Against all odds humanity survived, mainly due to the dense web of social contacts and the vast number of reciprocal commitments they maintain.
Being lost or isolated from the group for a protracted period meant you would be in terrible danger. You would be vulnerable to predators, if you got sick nobody would nurse you, and the rest of the tribe was also vulnerable without you. Every human instinct is honed not for life on your own, but for life in a tribe. It’s no wonder we feel anxious and distressed when faced with social solation. It’s an urgent signal from our body and brain to get back to the group. Ultimately we have strong impulses in favour of connection. Loneliness is an adverse state that motivates us to reconnect. Indeed, evolution has shaped us not only to feel bad in isolation but also to feel insecure.
Social isolation is painful and is represented in the top 10 stressors, according to the scale of life stressors- death of a loved one, marital breakdown and conflict at work to name but a few. The pain of feeling disconnected is expressed in many ways including physical illness, anxiety and depression.
Connectedness comes from the Greek word ‘harmos’ (harmony), which means ‘to join.’ While the positive effects of harmony can be seen in an orchestra or sporting team the negative effects of disharmony can manifest as disease and imbalance within the human body. Indeed studies consistently show that when it comes to staying healthy, both physically and mentally, strong relationships are at least as important as avoiding smoking and obesity!
According to neuroscience researcher John Cacioppe, loneliness in today’s society isn’t the physical absence of other people; it’s also the sense that you are not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. To end loneliness you need to have a sense of “mutual aid and protection.” This is an interesting concept, one worth considering in the society we are faced with today.
Research by Harvard professor Robert Putman has documented over the last few decades how our families and communities are unraveling- “We do things together less than any humans who came before us.” Even eating a meal or watching TV (and screen time) are no longer done together! An interesting American study wanted to know: ‘How many people you could turn to in a crisis or when something really good happens to you?’ When they started collecting data several decades ago, the average number of close friends was three. By 2004, the most common answer was none. This when the Internet was becoming mainstream, promising connection when other forces of disconnection were reaching a crescendo.
If you are a typical westerner in the twenty-first century, you check your phone every 6.5 minutes. If you are a teenager, you send an average 100 texts a day. And 42 percent of us never turn our phones off! For many, we escape anxiety through distraction. According to Dr Hillary Cash an American psychologist specialising in Internet addiction, “our impulsive internet use is a dysfunctional attempt to try and solve the pain that we are already in, caused by feeling alone in the world.” Our obsessive use of social media is an attempt to fill a hole, that took place before anyone had a smart phone. “We are living in a culture where people are not getting the connection that they need in order to be healthy humans…. Which is face to face, where we are able to see, and touch, and smell and hear each other… We’re social creatures. We’re meant to be in connection with one another in a safe, caring way, and when it is mediated by a screen, that’s absolutely not there!”
There are many ways we can experience the benefits (physical, mental and emotional) of social connectedness and being part of a community. For many of us our workplaces and immediate family and social circle provide our main source of interaction. While these relationships are crucial it can also be beneficial to look beyond these and to develop new habits and activities. Examples may include connecting with others who share a hobby, joining a sports team or a group such as a book club, enrolling in a class learning something you’ve always wanted to do or engaging in voluntary work or religious/ spiritual practice with others.
So this festive season my intention is to forgo the commercial pressure to buy and give gifts, but to focus on connecting with others, face to face and sharing something that matters. J
In the New Year I will continue my exploration of connection as a pillar of health and vitality... The importance of connecting to meaning and purpose for optimum wellbeing.
The Essence Of Health.
Dr Craig Hassed
Lost Connections. Uncovering the real causes of depression - and the unexpected solutions .
Go Wild: Eat fat, run free, be social, and follow evolutions other rules for total Health and wellbeing.
John J Ratey MD & Richard Manning
For the last 30 years I have regularly enjoyed time away in a natural setting. Invariably I would feel emotionally and mentally recharged, even if physically I was recovering from an extended bushwalk, mountain bike or weekend climbing. In my own terms this was like a reboot for my soul, where the benefits would last for weeks until my next nature fix. There are now more and more scientists researching how “forest bathing” makes changes to our health and wellbeing.
The term forest bathing is a translation of the Japanese movement “shinrin-yoku”. So strong is the movement that the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine has formally conducted research. Indeed the Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean governments are investing heavily into this area. Of interest is that these nations are the big users of technology, and many of the populous are disconnected from the natural world.
A series of studies have measured cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure to demonstrate the measurable benefits of wellbeing and performance by simple contact with nature. Interestingly some Japanese research has shown that exposure to nature not only mediated the stress response, but also impacted the immune response. A group of Japanese businessmen had a 40% increase in natural immune “killer cells” after a walk in the woods. These killer cells are our immune systems first line defensive weapon against infection like the influenza virus. Interestingly these killer cells were still elevated by 15% over baseline figures one month later!
In the book “Your Brain on Nature: The science of natures influence on your health, happiness and vitality”, the authors a medical doctor and naturopath, cite various examples around the world supporting the title of their book. Among them, subjects in an aged care facility in Texas showed decreased stress hormones when in a garden setting; a study in Kansas using EEG showed less stress in subjects when plants were in the room; researches in Taiwan using measures like EEG and skin conductance noted therapeutic effects in subjects viewing natural settings; a group in Japan had lower heart rates after viewing natural scenes for 20 minutes; another 119 research subjects in Japan showed less stress response when transplanting plants in pots than they did simply filling pots with soil.
So what are the mechanisms for these reported changes to wellbeing?
In the 1970’s, research showed changes to alpha brain wave activity when partcipants drove along tree line boulevards instead of freeways. Alpha waves are associated with serotonin production and had a positive effect on depression, anxiety, anger and aggression. More recent, research into phytoncides- phytochemicals that are given off by trees and plants, showed they had a profound effect on the brain. Not only did they lower stress hormones, they regulated pain and reduced anxiety. Simply taking a walk in the forest and breathing deep was providing a direct chemical pathway to the brain via our olfactory system.
It appears that our brain has evolved in nature. There is only a minority of humanity that has existed for more than a couple of generations in a purely urban environment. Nature is ingrained in our DNA and neurobiology! Researches using fMRI have pinpointed where in the brain nature works its magic. In particular the parahippocampus gyrus, which is rich in opioid receptors. Nature is like a little drop of morphine to the brain!
But there are other benefits of being in the outdoors. Firstly, play in nature exposes children and everyone else to a full range of microbes to support a healthy gut flora and challenge and tune ones immune system. Otherwise known as the hygiene hypothesis -where modern, urban people are showing a rapid increase in autoimmune disease because they live in an over sanitized environment. To be healthy our internal ecosystems need to be connected to external ecosystems.
Other researches propose the hypothesis that sleep disorders have become epidemic because of widespread Vitamin D deficiency. Being outdoors exposes people to the full spectrum of light, with a variety of benefits, not the least amongst them regulating melatonin and sleep cycles but also making healthy levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in its own right, but in this light it is the subject of the epidemic of nature deficit disorder!
So how do I get my nature fix? Prior to the birth of my son Samuel this involved regular weekends away camping and walking. These days I enjoy gardening when at home or lying in the hammock enjoying the surrounding tree canopies. A simple mindful walk in the Botanic Gardens or down by the Yarra River is another great place to forest bath. My wife Karen knows that I need a regular nature fix every 4-6 weeks to maintain emotional regulation at home and work. Apparently I am not nice to be around when in nature deficit.
Your Brain on Nature: The science of natures influence on your health, happiness and vitality.
Eva M Selhub MD & Alan C Logan
Go Wild: Eat fat, run free, be social, and follow evolutions other rules for total Health and wellbeing.
John J Ratey MD & Richard Manning
The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative.
Dr. Ming Kuo’s extensive research scientifically proves what we intrinsically know to be true: That spending time in nature has profoundly positive and long-lasting effects on our psychological, physical, and social health.
Fasting has always been a part of human evolution. Back in hunter-gatherer days we would go prolonged periods without food, expending energy as we hunt our prey. It wasn’t until 10,000 years ago when agriculture emerged, going without food became less normal. However, fasting has never been truly absent in many cultures and religions: e.g. short fasting in Judaism’s 24-hour Yom Kippur, and Buddhism’s daily post-midday fast, to the prolonged 30-day dawn-to-dusk fasting for Muslims in Ramadan
Fasting- The science
In recent times fasting has become a hot topic amongst scientists and has fueled much research into the mechanism of associated health benefits associated with reduced calorie consumption and intermittent fasting (IF).
Back in 1945, a study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that rats could increase life expectancy (20% for males and 15% for females). This was achieved by reducing calorie consumption with an intermittent fast of 1 day in 3 achieving best results.
Since this time there has been a variety of studies both in animals and humans to see how health and longevity were affected by IF. A review of such research in the American Journal of Nutrition found that IF modulated several risk factors, thereby preventing chronic disease in animals. Human trials to date have reported greater insulin-mediated glucose uptake. The limited human evidence suggests higher HDL-cholesterol concentrations (healthy cholesterol) and lower triacylglycerol concentrations.
Currently some of the reported benefits of IF:
So how do we explain the benefits of daily energy restriction (DER) and IF? A breakthrough came from a Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi who won the Nobel prize in 2016 for his work into autophagy (pronounced ‘or-toffa-gee’) – when pathogens (infectious agents), cell ‘junk’ or old and damaged structures are broken down inside a cell and the parts reused.
This is basically what happens in the body everyday as a byproduct of its metabolic processes. Otherwise known as “oxidative stress” it’s a bit like rust building up on your engine over time. It will inevitably happen unless we give our body an opportunity for essential maintenance. This is where autophagy kicks in and fasting taps into this process of cell repair and regeneration.
This is how physiologist believe it happens…
When we don’t eat for several hours the liver stops secreting glucose into the blood stream and instead uses it to repair damaged cells. Simultaneously the liver releases enzymes that break down stored fat and cholesterol. Hence during an (IF) our liver is repairing oxidative stress and burning fat.
The key is that what we eat, and when, affects this process. Sometimes what we eat pushes cells to keep multiplying and not recycle, called an anabolic state. Sometimes our body moves into a different state – one where we tidy up cells, kill off and recycle old ones. This is called the catabolic state, and it happens when we don’t eat. For optimal human health, the balance between anabolic and catabolic processes is crucial. Unfortunately this has been disrupted by modern society- readily available food sources, high-density calorific processed food and environmental influences such as marketing that promote regular snacking!
Putting Intermittent fasting into practice.
Michael Mosley has popularized (IF) with his books the 5:2 and the fast 800….
Time-restricted feeding (TRF): has been gaining popularity in recent years as perhaps an easier way of reducing the calories you consume every 24 hours. The basic premise is to only eat within a set period of time – anything from an 8 to 12-hour window being typical. In practice this means you finish eating after dinner at, say, 8pm – and you don’t eat again until 8am the next day (12-hour window for eating) or 12pm the next day (8-hour window for eating).
I have been trialing this 16 hour fast in every 24-hour period, as I am asleep for half and need only miss breakfast. From a compliancy perspective this is more realistic and the key for me is not to overcompensate in volume or quality. As previously reported I mainly stick to a Mediterranean diet, mainly plant based with fish, legumes, nuts (and red meat 1 -2 times week).
Finally for any eating plan to work it must be specific to your dietary needs attractive to you and sustainable for the long term. Certain Individuals should reframe from severe calorific restriction and fasting protocols. Michael Mosley has some guidelines, but best speak to your physician or qualified nutritionist/ dietician first.
Have you tried Intermittent fasting? If so what has your experience been?
I would love to hear from you J
Listen to Michael Mosley on RN podcast
Inflammation: a new approach to obesity and depression
Centenary Institute Oration recorded 16 September 2019
As you know, my husband and I have been on a “diet” since 28/8/19 and he’s lost 5 -6 kg so far and I’ve lost 4kg. You might remember I mentioned how he got a gee-up from the GP about his fats and sugars trending the wrong way – and the doc sent him off to lose 4 kg before November. It turned out to be very motivating!! (Also, I told him I wasn’t interested in spending my retirement looking after a stroked-out diabetic husband and that I was re-thinking the “in sickness and in health” bit of the marriage vows (joke)).
Click below for full transcript
When people come to me and discuss weight loss, our conversation inevitably moves from what they are eating to how much. In my previous blog post I talked about the importance of eating a whole food and mainly plant based Mediterranean diet. This month I want to share with you three hacks (backed by science) that have proven to reduce calories consumed per meal.
My first strategy is to stop the mindless eating. Put more simply, remove any devise (TV, tablet, computer or phone) and eat without distraction. New Research shows that when people engage in activities such as watching television, engaging in social media or playing video games at the same time as eating, they tend to eat more and consume greater amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat and saturated fat according to findings published in “Obesity”.
The researchers found that when participants ate while doing something else during they took in 17.6 more grams of carbohydrates, 6.5 more grams of fat, 6.1 more grams of protein and 2.1 more grams of saturated fat.
The take home message is put down that phone or controller!
Distracted eating leads people to consume more at a meal. The research also showed that there was no evidence for compensating and eating less at the next meal. The result is extra food, calories and energy intake.
My second strategy is to simply eat slowly. Firstly it is an opportunity to connect mindfully with the flavours, textures and aromas of your meal. To truly connect, be present and enjoy! From a physiological perspective, it takes 20-30 minutes to produce the hormone cholecystokinin. Once triggered it tells your brain its time to stop eating. The take home message is to slow down and let your physiology take over!
Finally, hack your environment to nudge smaller portions. Firstly, after serving your meal (but not eating) place all leftovers in Tupperware and place straight in the fridge for future meals. This simple action will mean you are less likely to have seconds. The other nudge is to use smaller plates and bowls. Large plates and large packaging, mean more eating (Wansink, 2006) and they are a form of choice architecture that works as major nudges. Just ask the food and beverage industries!
Currently the most topical strategy for reducing calories is to try an intermittent fast. There is increasing research and evidence into the health benefits, but the science of fasting and helpful hacks will be in my next blog. J
Do you have any other strategies to mange portion control when eating? I would love to hear from you and share your thoughts.
You can't afford not to watch this Ted Talk! Learn more about sleep's impact on your learning, memory, immune system and even your genetic code with sleep expert Matt Walker...
Some hacks to Improve your sleep
The following are a range of tools for improving poor sleep. Some maybe more applicable to your own situation. If sleep problems continue despite the application of the following strategies it is advisable that you seek attention from a trained sleep specialist.
Are there any other rituals or behaviours that assist you in getting the best possible sleep? If so, I want to hear from you :)
RN Health Report Related Sleep Stories
Sleeping pills don't work for insomnia in the long run — they can often make your sleep worse — but there's good evidence a specialised type of cognitive behavioural therapy can help. Listen to Report
Some people are naturally inclined to sleep early and wake early, too — what you probably know as a 'morning lark' or 'early bird. Listen to Report
My grandfather who originated from Crete ate a mostly plant based diet not for health but mainly due to availability and financial constraints of animal protein. Red meat was an occasional luxury and his original diet was a traditional Mediterranean affair with the staple array of vegetables, pulses, a moderate intake of fish, Greek yoghurt a little red wine and plenty of olive oil!
With his migration in the 1920’s came more affluence, urbanization and increase access to meat, this status symbol was wholeheartedly embraced in this new “lucky country.” Interestingly today only 7% of Australians eat the recommended five serves of vegetables per day!
We know that diet plays a big role in chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Scientists have been looking into the benefits of traditional diets in their quest for answers, with the Mediterranean diet attracting most of the research. According to the American Journal of clinical nutrition, the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancers neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and living a longer life. Unfortunately my grandfather who took on the Australian love for steak and sausages, died in his 80s with diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia!
According to the World Health Organisation, there is sufficient evidence that processed meats like ham, bacon, salami and sausages may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. For instance eating 50g of processed meat (such as two small rashes of bacon) every day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18%. There is also some evidence that red meat may also increase the risk of certain cancers.
The planet would also benefit from the reduction of red meat consumption, given the global livestock sector is a significant source of greenhouse gas, water pollution and forest clearing. Recently 37 experts collaborated for two years to produce the Lancets report; Food in the Anthropocene, to address a “civilization in crisis”. They came up with a “planetary health diet” that would optimize people’s health and reduce deaths globally by 19-24%.
The dietary overhaul includes a reduction in global consumption in less healthy food such as added sugars and red meat by less than 50%. Total daily meat consumption it recommends, shouldn’t exceed 28g/ day. The average Australian consumption is 250g a day!
The report also recommends a 100% increase in legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables globally. These foods contain lots of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients called polyphenols that support a healthy body and brain. They are low in kilojoules, rich in fibre, which fills you up and feed your beneficial bacteria. Fibre also slows the release of glucose into the blood stream, which along with polyphenols, helps maintain healthy blood sugar control and reduces the risk of diabetes. According to research from the University of Florence, vegetarians who eat a balanced diet have long enjoyed significant health benefits when compared to meat eaters.
So, how does this information influence my family’s eating? We generally eat a diet high in vegetables, legumes and nuts. We do eat some red meat, but no more than once a week. With my wife Karen’s Multiple Sclerosis, we have been following a lower saturated fat diet and opt for eating kangaroo. With only 4% saturated fat, it is one of the healthiest meats and has less environmental impact to conventionally farmed animals. Eating Roo is a great way of getting your iron and B vitamin fix. Our tip is to try making a lean Bolognase sauce where you can mask the gamey flavour with smoky paprika and other herbs and spices. Substitute your pasta for broccoli, roasted cauliflower or zuchinni ribbons! Our other protein sources are: fish a few times a week, legumes, tofu and nuts.
The easiest way I find to increase vegetable intake is to have a soup or a salad as a main meal. In winter vegetable soup is both warming and filling. You are only limited by your imagination, but I like to add as many colours and supplement with legumes. The same is for my salads. No boring Iceburg lettuce and tomato for me! Instead I will use every available vegetable in the fridge (at least 8 varieties) and supplement with seeds, nuts and a can of legumes. Not only do I love the texture and flavours, but it’s like taking my daily vitamin… only better!
How many serves of vegetables do you get a day? www.eatforhealth.gov.au
What strategies do you use to boost your vegetable consumption?
I would love to hear from you :)